Written by Andrew Forbes.
As a piper, busker, vagabond, troubadour, bard, and wandering poet, I have had many adventures. Here are a few on them, mostly from the last year when I decided to fulfill my childhood aspiration to live the life of a gypsy. I've been several places in Canada, USA, and Europe, and have criss-crossed America several times.
These stories are some little fables of my modern-day musical exploits. I've decided to write them as little vignettes, not necessarily in a linear timeline. They are all true, though some of names of folks have been changed for their privacy.
The Santa Fe Score
There was one time I was busking in Santa Fe, on Labor Day. I was travelling in the summer of 2006 with a lady I met in Ithaca, New York. We fell in love and drove across the country together. We had lots of adventures together; Alana was an adventurous woman. On our journey to the west we stopped in Santa Fe on Labor Day to check out the city, see some celebrations, and busk in the downtown area to make some gas money. This was before I had any albums, and I had just returned from an extended sojourn to Europe where I had been living for a stint. I was twenty-one at the time.
I went downtown to what seemed to be the town square. It was cloudy but hot. There were lots of American Indian artists displaying their wares in this town square: jewelry, pottery, beaded garments, trinkets, original crafts. There were lots of artist tents with cool kitschy artsy stuff. I was looking for a place to play some pipes.
I did not see a good place to play. When I busk, since it is with bagpipes, there are a few things to consider. There must be enough space for the sound to fill. In this case, there was no space bigger than a little block beside the row of art merchants in free-to-all quadrant of the art market. There must also be people hanging about, not simply walking from one place to another. People must be in a relaxed mood and able to take a moment and appreciate the present, appreciate the art. Also, a good place to busk is best around any kind of museum, and any kind of art museum is best at that.
I found the modern art museum in downtown Santa Fe, perpendicular from the town square and the art bazaar, and started to play on the corner of the street on the sidewalk. I had a city corner block that had almost no traffic. Almost instantly people appeared from all corners and started to gather and watch and listen to me perform. Their appreciative energy gave me a strong boost, and I felt in top form. People started dropping money in the case, and pretty soon it was full of dollar bills. People were dancing, people were smiling. Everyone seemed to appreciate it.
There was an old feller with an orange moustache and a cowboy hat who stuck around for my whole set. He loved it. He was telling me that seeing me, and hearing my piping style, reminded him of this time he was in the East Village in New York, at a club called the White Room. He said I reminded him of this guitarist he saw with this band called Jimmy James and the Blue Flames. He told me the story that while he was watching this show, a guitar string broke during the song. Jimmy signals to the band to keep playing, and jumping down to his guitar case he rips out a string, lashes it in his teeth, and proceeds to string it up on the instrument. It took him about 15 seconds. After a quick tune up, he jumps back on the stage, rejoining the band and blowing everyone’s minds. Jimmy James and the Blue Flames of course is one of the early pre-Experience bands of Jimi Hendrix. He probably had told that story a thousand times. I know I would, if that were my story. I can definitely be susceptible to that kind of flattery. To be compared to my favorite musician/guitarist is, to be modest, some mojo boosting shit.
Regardless I continued to captivate my audience. At the end of the busk, I had nearly $500 in my pocket. A fellow drove up on a motorbike and handed me a $100 bill. He gave me an address and said I should come there at five and play my pipes. I graciously accepted the invitation. When Alana and I arrived, I learned that my hosts were a Hollywood production team in Santa Fe to make the film 3:10 to Yuma. David Pemperton, the fellow who invited us was the set designer. He had made sets for great films like Edward Scissorhands and Jurassic Park. It was a barbeque, so we ate some awesome burgers, hung out with Hollywood producers, got drunk for free, and ended up crashing a David’s place on the pull-out. The next day, we drove across the painted desert on our way to see the Grand Canyon.
The gods of rock
This story falls in the beginning of what turned out to be a summer of transformation and an autumn of devastation. After the first half of the Nature tour in Minneapolis and Chicago, summer 2016, finally making it back into New York City, exactly five years to the day that I moved there in 2011, there was a sense of completion and also a sense of last rites. I felt though I would return many times to that metropolis I love so dear, with it’s fast pace, dynamic food, and hungry music, that this could be the last time I would step in this city in this life before the next. Whether the next life was in this present body no one could tell, though there was a foreboding sense of tying up loose ends before venturing into the unknown wilderness of life. Not everyone returns from such journeys, and if they do survive, do not return the same.
I had six weeks to do whatever I wanted with a bundle of cash and a new car. I felt ready to embark on this next great adventure of life that would carry me from coast to coast. The last time I made such a journey was exactly ten years prior, whereupon I fell in love with a fine woman and drove across the American south to make it to the southern California shoreline. I had an order to pick up, a fine kilt hand made in the modern Forbes tartan, which awaited me in a quaint little Catskill town. I had timed this with also attending a rock festival, The Peach, taking place three hours outside the city in Scranton, PA. The last minute ticket for one day was $100. I felt this was excessive, though as it had been years since I attended a good rock festival, I was determined to see it and it was right on my path of travel and timing.
The Peach is a huge festival, taking place on Montage Mountain, a resort that is one part ski mountain, one part giant waterpark, and one part grandstand concert venue. The festival incorporates all three parts, with the ski mountain serving as the campsite for festivarians, the waterpark for thrill seekers, and the grandstand for the festival’s top performances. I bought a last minute ticket for the Saturday only, as the headlining bands were the Lennon/Claypool Delirium and Umphree’s McGee. The Delirium, led by Primus front man Les Claypool and Sean Lennon (of the John Lennon Lennons), was what drew to me to purchasing the pricey ticket.
I arrived at the parking lot sometime in the early afternoon. I had no idea what to expect, and most of the festival goers were there not for the day but for the weekend. Upon entering the front gate, I was overwhelmed by the sheer immensity of the festival (with over 100,000 people) that spanned three stages. The waterpark boasted gigantic waterslides leading down the mountainside, with the longest slip-n-slide I had ever seen. There was such a high volume of nudity on that hot summer day I had to reorient myself to the aire of promiscuity pervading the place. As I walked around the shops, selling Grateful Dead merchandise, tie-died clothes, gypsy fashion, and headshops, I reserved a massage from a pop-up massage parlor. The massage was nice, delivered by a nice young woman from Woodstock. Afterwards I went down to the food court and saw the biggest line was for a food stand selling “Jerry Rolls,” giant egg-rolls stuffed with veggies and topped with meat, popular in the hey-day of the Dead. Standing in line, the woman masseuse who had just treated me was also getting a Jerry Roll. We didn’t talk much, so I struck up a conversation with a tall fellow who was behind me in the line. We talked briefly about where we had come from to be there, only to quickly find out that we went to the same University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Suddenly we were friends. We continued to joke and laugh and walk around the festival like a crew. He too had gone to the festival on his own, but scored an artist wristband through his work (as a sound engineer). The Artist wristband (a red wristband) was strikingly similar in color to my Saturday wristband (a dark orange), so we soon found ourselves walking around backstage like we were meant to be there. We went back to his tent, which he had set up behind the second stage, where he unveiled a small sheet of psychedelic hallucinogens. This felt like a perfectly appropriate thing to do at a music festival, so we dropped together and began the party with a mutually assured psychedelic experience.
We walked together to the mainstage, going through the dividing forest on the path that joined the separated waterpark and concert venue. Entering the concert section, I was amazed to see the immense size of the stage and the tent hanging over it. The tent loomed over a 20,000-seat amphitheater, and itself was the size and likeness of a Star Destroyer. The stage was so large that the musicians looked tiny in the lights. The sounds of endless guitar solos and reverbed drums and funky bassline grooves filled the space. Phishheads and Deadheads roamed about everywhere with colorful shirts and pin covered hats and dreadlock tentacles. Girls in bikinis and sarongs, tanned skin covered in mud and dirt, tread barefoot along the muddy paths. Shirtless young men, undergraduate in ages, wearing beards and beads, sauntered about with walking sticks ornamented with crystals and copper, modern day magic staffs for these young sages wearing their egos like wizards. Everywhere was the smell of marijuana, and in the thousands of bloodshot eyes I saw the deranged looks of drug induced thrills, whether it was magic mushrooms, LSD, or MDMA that guided these children of nature on their rock-n-roll adventures.
I myself have done enough psychedelics to understand them, and do not catch myself by surprise when under their influence. My mind, whether a by-product of meditation practice, experimentation, or simply maturity, remains mostly lucid and clear no matter what state of mind I am in. The only substance in my experience that has withdrawn me from that lucidity is spiced rum, for reasons unknown to me. That is why I rarely go for dark-and-stormys.
The psychedelics were beginning to settle, and other than the bit of spatial perception that enhances lights and sound, it wasn’t altering my mind all that much. As the hours went on, the time for the Lennon/Claypool Delirium drew closer, and the excitement grew. Finally, the hour of dusk had arrived, and making my way to the main stage, the set commenced in a distorted drone of psychedelic foreboding. On walked Lennon and Claypool, like gods, and commenced their hour-long set of classic covers, Primus songs, and new originals. They played King Crimson’s Court of the Crimson King, which launched me into a vision. The first verse sings
The purple piper plays his tune,
The choir softly sings,
The secret words of an ancient tongue
In the Court of the Crimson King….
And suddenly I was like “whoa, that’s it! That’s what I must become!” As a piper, and as a fan of rock music, I pay attention to all the references to “the piper.” As in Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven, Pink Floyd’s Piper at the Gates of Dawn, and King Crimson’s opus, the piper is mention as an enigmatic figure that will usher the receptive listener into the next golden age, leading “us to reason.” As they played the song, heavy and thick in the style of both these rock icons, heat in my heart began to spread through my body, radiating out like the sun. Tears streamed down my face and I was in that moment so thankful to be present for this concert. They played on, playing favorites like Jerry Was a Racecar Driver, Hear Come the Bastards and Tommy the Cat, as well as Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.
As it felt like they were reaching the finale of their set, I felt the whole crowd gearing up to cheer them on to an encore. Thousands of music worshippers surrendered to the rhythm of Claypool and Lennon’s musical voodoo. Suddenly without warning, the music stopped mid-stride. The lights go out, and the musicians abruptly leave the stage. I thought “Is this part of the act?” when next I heard loud rumbles from above the tent. As everyone looked up, lightening came crashing down on all sides of the tent in bolts of green, white, and purple. Thunder roars from all sides of the venue and rain began to hammer down on the tent, causing a terrific drum-roll. The field beyond the tent starts to flood, and all the muddy hippies run for cover, cascading in a group mudslide that crashes into the bleachers. The lightening and rain continue for twenty minutes, and while people all around are looking up with shocked and disappointed faces, I found myself standing on the bleachers below the central point of the tent, fists raised to the sky, shouting “THOR” into the thunderclouds. To me, the gods of nature and rock had come down to celebrate with us, and were appeased by this magnificent musical offering that Lennon and Claypool had made. I had seen Tibetan Lamas bring down this kind of magic, and I had seen rock documentaries of Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix, and the Grateful Dead that had these kind of moments in their footage, but in my own experience this phenomenon was just legend. I had finally witnessed the true power of rock, the siddhis of music, the magic that comes from a great performance. The rain waned, and the thunder and lightening began to rise up into the sky. The lightening storm stayed above the clouds in the upper atmosphere all night, adding further dimensions to the light shows accompanying the bands that played on until three in the morning.
I then made more friends and continued to the campsite, where we partied through the night. The psychedelic substance I had taken gave me the energy to stay awake well into the next day. Since campers needed wagons to ferry their gear to their campsites on the slope, there was a grand event of Calvin and Hobbes’ style wagon racing down the slope. Men would barrel down crowded hills on flimsy wagons in contest to have the greatest adrenaline rush. This spectacle was as thrilling to watch as it was to dodge the oncoming racers as they hurled at top speed towards a wire fence that they repeatedly crashed upon, only to get up, fetch their wagon, run back up the hill, and race down again. Amazingly no one was seriously injured.
I stayed up with a nice crew, listening to music, talking about music, smoking cigarettes and weed, until the next morning had risen. I then made my way out of the festival, collected my car, and began to drive towards upstate New York, where the kilt was awaiting me. Going to the ATM, I gathered the money, I went to Bonnie’s house and fetched the kilts. She had repaired both my Royal Stewart Kilt and made me a brand-new custom Forbes kilt. I was very pleased with her work. I took a short swim in the lake near her house, and began the drive back to Brooklyn.
As soon as I drove out of the town center near Bonnie’s house, it started to rain, and then it started to pour. It was raining so hard that I was having difficulty seeing out my windshield with the wipers on full. I drove carefully in dense traffic for most of the duration of the storm, with my emergency lights flashing and my sweat cooling. I was crossing a bridge when suddenly the car in front slammed its brakes. I slammed on mine and the whole car began to slide toward hers. I had already accepted the fate of a collision, which was unavoidable. But at the very last moment, my car sliding speedily towards hers, the whole car began to slide sideways, as though something grabbed the car and moved it across the road. I narrowly missed the collision by an inch. Shocked and fully charged, I kept driving confidently towards Brooklyn. When finally in Queens BQE traffic, another car, barreling through traffic, as though the brakes were cut, nearly rammed into me, missing me by a fraction. If something had not at the moment compelled me to sharply move my car to the right, it would have certainly hit my port side.
After a night of music magic, receiving my new fine garments, and narrowly escaping death, injury, or car damage, I pulled into my friend’s studio. Locking the car, entering the warehouse, pulling out the futon and lying down safely sound, I immediately passed into sleep, resting like the dead, to arise the next morning refreshed and energized.
August 8th, 2016. I awoke early that summer morning with the excitement of a fresh beginning. That day would be the first page upon which I would write the story of my life, as though every moment to that point was merely in preparation for what was about to begin. The Chicago Nature tour was behind me and I had about one month to do whatever I fancied until I was to regroup with the tour in Cincinnati. I awoke in a soft bed next to a bonnie lass, Rowan, a blonde bombshell for which we shared a sexual friendship spontaneous and free. Her sweet kisses and passionate embrace purified my desires before I was to set out on my quest. The night before was a night of laughter, stories, cocktails, and exotic sushi in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. We made love as though maybe it was the last time, though in our playful hearts we cared only for the moment. A good friend, we had kindled a romance over the years to blossom in a way that we had no bonds to bear on each other, no fear for which we would hold each other down, no cause for jealousy or possession.
With that blessing I started off, driving across the Williamsburg Bridge, onto Canal Street during early morning rush hour, using my patient driving skills to ease my way through traffic, and following Siri to lead me on the Maps app through the Holland Tunnel and onto the New Jersey Turnpike. My car: a balck 2003 Honda CR-V. My immediate destination: Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. My route: 95 south through the Washington Loop. It took me several hours to drive down to the loop, and to my surprise, a costly expense in tolls. I listened to Jay-Z, Biggie, Tupac, and Joni, gangster rap with a hint of folk. This was the first inkling I had to realize that Siri is programmed to take all the most expensive routes; she wants you to take those toll roads. This conspiracy lent me skills of navigation and foresight, but at this point I willingly surrendered to her direction as she led me straight into hours of thick traffic in the D.C area, taking the loop to the west-bound Lee Highway.
As I sat begrudgingly in my car as the traffic crawled slowly forward, I decided to call my father. My father and I are very similar, which illuminates many stains of my own character, to help me understand how I might have behaved in certain situations that in retrospect I might presently regret. That aside, he’s a noble and good-hearted fellow who has worked hard through many sacrifices. We talked for about an hour, about the recent leg of the tour, and about possible road stops on my journey west. It was then I got it into my head that I should go to Alabama, to the legendary recording studios in Muscle Shoals. I had heard of them and seen a documentary telling the stories of how the greatest southern rock, rhythm and blues, and rock albums were made there. I figured I could take my recording studio that is in my car and set it up outside, connect it to power of my car, and record myself by the banks of the Tennessee River.
On my way to Shenandoah I assumed there would be a Camping World or a Wall Mart along the way that I would be able to buy some cheap camping gear and go camping in the park. Siri’s direction through the traffic loop had caused me to fall three hours behind schedule. Therefore, after driving all day, I finally ended up in Sperryville, on the north east entrance to the park, at dusk. I stopped for a burger, and without much knowledge of national parks, thought to myself it was too late to enter the park. I also, to my chagrin, did not find either a camping store or a Wal Mart. I was without a tent, without a sleeping bag, and without luck. I went to a small pub attached to a golf course and ordered a cheeseburger and a beer. I talked to the locals and the bartender about the local scene. Sperryville seemed a nice little town, a little hippied-up village nested in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The locals told me that the local police, park rangers, and state troopers make a sport of hassling people who sleep in their cars, sometimes arresting them with fines. Well, shit! I thought.
Feeling hopeless, though not undetermined, and frankly exhausted from the day of driving, I wondered what on earth I was going to do. I paid my bill and left the pub, and saw a welcome sight. A deadlocked phishhead, also known to some as a ‘wook,’ sat vaping on a picnic table right outside the door of the golf-course clubhouse where the pub was located. Immediately I struck up a conversation with him, as I was in desperate need of a friend. I had just days before been at the music festival where I saw Les Claypool and Sean Lennon invoke a crazy thunderstorm, so I told him that story. He told me stories of seeing the same kind of thing at Phish and Dead & Co. concerts he had just been to. Kenny told me his story, as we bonded over plumes of vape mist and cigarette smoke. His dreadlocks, kept uneven, framed a nineteen-year-old face crusty with bits of blonde facial hair. We had a delightful time chatting on the picnic table. I told him my story, of being a musician, the play I was working for, and my journey west. I told him I had been planning on camping in the park, but didn’t have any camping gear to do it. He said suddenly “Oh, you want to go camping?” and thinking a moment he then says, “I got you man!”
It took some emotional screening of this fellow to feel like he was harmless. Fortunately, I have a very good sense of character judgment. Kenny no doubt had done some screening of me as well, and must’ve decided I was all right. He said he would show me a spot to camp if I could give him a ride back home. We jumped in my car and he started taking on some deep forest roads. We made lefts and rights, crossed a little bridge and drove higher into the foothills. We had been driving for about 10 minutes when he told me to turn on to an overgrown road. We drove through the tall grass for several hundred yards before we came to a stop. We got out of the car, walked about twenty feet, and there it was: a perfectly set camp. A tent, an air mattress, bedding, food, a firepit, cooking and eating utensils, a camping light, and a picnic table and chairs were already set up. He said I could stay there as long as I liked, that he had been living there for a few weeks but moved to room in a house. It was there, waiting for me the whole time.
I drove Kenny back home, and started to retrace the confusing route back to the campsite. I did get lost, and missed some turns, spending about an hour going back and forth trying to find the bridge we had crossed. That was the major landmark that I had the darndest time finding at night. After taking some chance turns, I finally did find it, and made my way back up to the campsite. I found it and immediately started gathering wood. I built a fire in the pit and started smiling so much my face began to hurt. There I was, just as I wanted, on the foot of the Shenandoah Park, listening to the roaring songs of the cicadas and the crickets, thick forest foliage in every direction, and with an absolutely fearless heart to the dark of the wild around me. I was simply enchanted and in love with my surroundings. I listened to the insect songs, hearing their repetitive choral chirping and buzzing, millions of tiny voices in every direction. When I finally did dose off to sleep, I slept deep like the dead, to awaken to a fresh and silent morning.
The early sun had not yet begun to heat the moist earth, and I sat and practiced my meditation sadhana. A sadhana is a formal meditation practice that is a ritual cycle of various meditation techniques around invoking a certain quality of clear psycho-spiritual energy that helps the practitioner expand their consciousness and understand themselves, and reality, gradually; understanding the nature of things as they truly are. In this case, there is a lot of chanting, and some mumbling, and some sitting. My sadhana takes about an hour to perform. It is a form of religious devotion in the Buddhist and Vedic traditions.
I then cooked myself some breakfast on the open fire, oatmeal, and tidied up the campsite. I took a small red sacred marble from a stupa (Buddhist temple) in Colorado, and buried it in the ground next to the campfire where I had been sitting. I then drove my car back through Sperryville and entered the park, where I took the scenic drive through the Blue Ridge Parkway, went on a hike to some majestic waterfalls, saw some deer, saw a bear crossing the road, and took a nap in the park. But with my next goal in mind, to visit and record in Muscle Shoals, was pressing my excitement, and I was eager to get back on the road. Maybe I could stop in Nashville on the way, and do some busking there before driving down to Alabama, I decided. So only after a few hours of enjoying the view of the Blue Ridge Mountain range, I started off down the south west exit of the park. As I drove onto the thruway headed west, a thundercloud formed behind me and with a few lightening strikes I saw in my rear-view mirrors, the mountain gods seemed to say farewell and wish me fortune on my journey ahead.
I drove through West Virginia, and visited some antique stores and thrift shops. I visited one large antique shop where the store clerk looked like a Klan member supervising a used weapons stockpile. He had knifes from all over the world, and an exceptional amount of Nazi knives and guns, Lugers and bowies, along with other Nazi paraphernalia. I asked him if he had any old swords, to which he showed me an assortment of authentic swords from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, swords that were used in the revolutionary and civil wars. Beautiful rapiers and cutlasses and fencing weapons, perfectly preserved, yet priced too high for my budget. There was one sword there, a black cutlass, with dings and dents in the blade, that was quite obviously a pirate sword. I held it for but a moment, and the vibes of this weapon were dark, that it had tasted the blood of many victims who had fallen under its edge over the centuries. I bought a crossbow from the clerk.
As I continued down 87 south, I prepared myself for the next few days of travel, that I was to rest in my car that night and continue into Nashville the next day, and after that, to enter the delta river city of Muscle Shoals and Sheffield, to try and feel and tune in to the geological energy of that sacred place, and to see if I could hear the secret song of the singing river, the legend behind the music that made these recording studios so notorious.
The Singing River
Nashville has never been too kind to my busking. On my last cross-country journey, the one I took with my ex Alana and her dog Nadja, we stopped in Nashville. I spent an hour busking on Broadway, with not so much as a little bit given by all them white crackers with their “southern hospitality.” The sense of pride and ego I felt hurled at me as they walked by, and the nasty glares indicated to me that Nashville’s got some issues. On the other hand, all the brothers and sisters loved the music. While white people stuck their noses up, all those without such pale complexion loved it, dancing around me, tipping me, making a scene. Someone even gave me a gift certificate for a complimentary dance at one of the local strip cubs. I didn’t take it up though, I had Alana and that was more than enough woman.
What did happen on that fabled road trip in 2006 was that while I was busking during the hot, sunny day, a shoeless man in his late-fiftie’s/early-sixties jaywalked across the boulevard without looking for oncoming traffic and dropped his leather cap in my case. It had two solid gold angel pins on it. I took that hat with me to Los Angeles later that year, and while living in Venice Beach, I gave one of the pins to a hippie named Halo, and the hat and other pin to my friend Dave, a homeless fellow from Santa Monica. The hat was too small for my big head.
This time, ten years later, I was driving in midday in August, and I tried to find a spot busking, but again, was not received well. I suppose, as a busker, I don’t understand Nashville and how it works. I tried to play for about an hour and gave up to continue driving south. I did check out the Parthenon before I left the city.
I could tell the moment I made it across the border into Alabama. The farm lands of southern Tennessee gave way to lush jungle-like foliage. The south in the summertime is thick with brush, and with gnarly vines, leaving me thinking about the big lizards and bugs and snakes that live in them. I stopped at a small liquor store and was sold George Dickel 12 year old Tennessee sour mash. It since has become my favorite American whiskey.
My destination was the recording studio mecca Muscle Shoals, made famous by a documentary that tells the story of how some of the greatest records and hit songs were produced in this one place. Aretha Franklin recorded some of her most beloved work there, and everyone who was anyone later than the 1950’s recorded at these famous studios.
Recording studios are temples of sound. To have a place where music is captured and recorded is truly a sacred place. All of the elated emotion, the determined intention, the vibes: these places are where great influence is issued upon the world. Music is magic, and the magic of recording is like taking a hand and printing it in solid rock for people to listen too forever. “When you make a recording, you want to put a piece of your soul in it, because it will be there forever.”
One thing I have been experimenting and researching over my life is understanding the geographic theory of music. Certain places on the earth, whether natural or man-made, effect the type of music that is made there. In New York, there is a commanding sense of urban rhythms, which gave rise to all kinds of jazz and hip-hop, as well as a certain quality of rhythmic weight in New York musicians. In Nashville and in the mid-south, there is a sense of country, so country music is so popular. In Vermont or Nova Scotia, there is a real sense of Celtic tradition, and a lot of the music is Celtic. The rolling hills look like Scotland. In California, so much of the music is inspired by the beach, the easy rolling of the waves and the feeling that with only the sun and the surf a man could be truly happy. In my religious understanding, these places are called Drala spots. A drala is a spirit of wakefulness, something that reminds the human spirit of its intrinsic brilliance. A Tibetan word, although associated with Buddhism, dralas are non-religious entities. Only understood by a mind that has been able to rest in a headspace of non-aggression. (Hence, the association with Buddhism and meditation practice). Dralas are all around, weaving the unseen fabric of reality that binds all beings together in mind and spirit.
Muscle Shoals is one of those spots. That is the only way to truly explain why so many great hits get recorded there. Legend has it that there is a river goddess living there, and she sings to all the musicians there. According to lore, a Yuchi girl’s village was massacred many generations ago. She was the sole survivor, and knew all the songs of her people. She wandered the lands looking for anyone else who knew those songs. After a long time searching, she gave up and drowned herself in the Tennessee river. He became a river spirit, singing to those who come upon the river. That is why the Cherokee call it “the Singing River.”
My mission was to drive to Muscle Shoals, set up the recording gear in my car (an mBox Pro with Two AKG 214’s and my laptop) on the river and record myself playing pipes by the river. I thought it would be a appropriate way for me to visit this place.
I got there late, rented a cheap hotel room, and refreshed myself after about 4 days without a shower. I wanted to be in peak form if I was to do any recording. I went out to a local dive bar, and found a guitarman named Lionel playing some rock. He was great. We hung out for a little bit. The bartender kept hitting on me.
The next morning it was raining. Foiled! I thought. I decided the day was not lost, and that later that day it might clear up. So I decided to go tour the studios. I went to Fame studios, where the recordings first began. The lady at the counter was nice enough to show me around. I got to meditate for a moment in the tracking room, where hundreds of thousands of hours of great music has been played. I touched the original Wurlitzer from Never Loved a Man. It was charged with drala.
I bought a t-shirt. Then I drove down to Muscle Shoals Sound, the other studio that was opened in the Shoals. Unfortunately, it was closed. Dr. Dre and Beats headphones had bought it and were actively renovating it. Apparently, Dre is going to turn it into a non-profit destination recording studio, and a national heritage site. The ladies there tried to convince me their t-shirts were better than Fame’s, but it simply wasn’t true. They then told me about a place I hadn’t head of called Cypress Moon studios. I drove there right away. It was right on the river, and stood huge as a 37,000 square-foot recording studio complex. I walked in to find the lobby empty. I peaked around some corners, and decided to walk down a long and dark hallway. On the walls were pictures of Hollywood movies. I thought to myself this must be where they record film scores. I continued down the hallway to a set of large red metal doors. I lean my ear against it, and hear people playing pool on the other side. I take an educated risk, open the door and walk in.
Sure enough, two rock-star looking dudes were playing pool. I introduced myself and we were all instant friends. A little dog walks up followed by the owner, a Mrs. Tanya Holly. We get along famously, and by charming her little doggy, I charmed her too. She took me on the tour, telling me that indeed they record all kinds of stuff there, including film scores. She was telling me that Paul Simon had just been there. She showed me the two tracking rooms, each big enough to fit a symphony, equipped with four isolation booths. She showed me the control rooms, which were buzzing with engineers getting ready for the weekend’s project. They even had a theater, which she led me too. As we walked in, with the high brick walls and ceiling, I noticed a really nice dynamic of reverberation reflecting from our voices. We sat down and I told her about my story, the trip that I was on, that I play bagpipes, and that I was going to try and record myself with my own equipment. I then had a thought, like a light switch. I said “there’s not anything really going on here, you wont be tracking until tomorrow. It’s still raining, so why don’t I get my own recording gear from my car and record right here, in the Full Moon Theater?”
She thought for a moment. “Sure. Yes. I think that would be fine.”
I got my gear together, set up the microphones for solo live piping, got in the middle of the stage, and let her shred for two hours. Tanya’s husband Jim came in and listened for a while. I had a sense of playing for all the dralas, for all the spirits of the whole universe, there in that theater. After two hours of pure indulgent musical bliss, I opened my eyes to see Tanya sitting in the audience rows. She had to leave, so it was time to pack up. She recommended a place for me to go to lunch.
I bid her farewell has she walked me out to the parking lot. It had stopped raining. I drove down to the little pub she recommended and got a burger. The 2016 Olympics were on the TV and it was women’s golf and women’s rowing. I was blown away by the golf.
It was a gorgeous afternoon, so I decided to go back to the river by the studio. As I drove down the road I saw this big grey dog trotting down to the river as well. I parked the car and took a seat on the big rocks on the shoreline. I sat still and brought myself into meditation, using the sound of the waves lapping up against the rocks as my mindful anchor. Perhaps I could hear it, I thought, the song of the river. I listened attentively for a few moments, but heard instead the approaching breath of the grey dog I had seen a few minutes earlier. This big grey dog, without a collar, and will his balls intact, had come down to meditate by the river too. Oh hey, I heard him think, can I sit here with you? He sat down next to me and we both gazed into the river for about half and hour. I thought, this is too cool. So I went to my car to get an instrument, my soprano recorder, to play something that I was feeling start to bubble in this depths of my inspiration.
As I walked to the car, the dog started singing. Awooohooo wooohooo. I was like “whaaaat?” I sat down on the fence, and the dog came right up to me. For about fifteen minutes, I played the melodies on my little recorder and this dog harmonized with me the whole time. When it was over, I got some jerky from my car and gave some to the dog. The dog then trotted away.
I got into the vehicle and started driving, and the next place I stopped was Graceland in Memphis. Unfortunately, the place was closed for the night. However, there was a huge white wall covered in signatures, so I took out the glitter glue given me by a hippie girl at the Peach festival and signed my name on the wall. I then began the long marathon drive all the way to Boulder, Colorado. The trip took two days of non-stop driving. I was hallucinating through the night, listening to gangster rap, determined to make the drive in good time.
I stopped in Wichita for some BBQ buffet, which was necessary and recharged me for the rest of the drive. I was to visit my family and friends in my hometown, for I had yet to decide whether I was going to go to Burning Man or not and wanted to take a couple of days to recharge from driving half the country. The tickets were expensive and I had never been. On that drive, however, I discovered that on this little gangster rap-filled iPod there was a collection of six Outkast albums. I hadn’t really known too much about Outkast other than the hits. I started the first song on the first album, and let it ride all the way. After listening to all six, I started the playlist over again. I didn’t want to listen anything other than Outkast as I drove down the 70 to the 36 and onward to the Flatirons and into the little valley city of Boulder, little lights of Babylon underneath a highland starry sky.
(There are a few chapters not yet written to place here at a certain point.)
Meditation on Mt. Tamplais
I drove through the golden hills and rolling Sierras of Northern California, from Yosemite through the vineyards and along winding rocky mountain roads. As the sun began to set I saw the gleaming city lights in the distance, artificial auroras shooting light into the sky. The San Francisco bay! Although I have enjoyed many great cities of this country, it was my first time to set sights on this most unusual of places. I drove into Oakland and met up with my friends Jonathan and his fiancé, Rebecca. They had arranged for me to stay in their new house that they were having renovated. It was under construction but the attic was equipped with a futon bed. While during the days people were working on the house, it was like I was camping in the attic. The bed was next to a large window that looked out over the bay.
The next day, Jonathan and I went to the Pleasanton highland games, a terrific gathering of Scottish culture. Not only were there thousands of pipers about, but sheepdog competitions, there was a renaissance faire, falcons, celtic rock-entertainment, and many shops to buy all sorts of Scottish goods. It was a scene. We presented ourselves to Mary Queen of Scots, as enacted in the faire. We entered her court as knights from the Kingdom of Shambhala. I was a piper-warrior and Jonathan, who was using my walking stick to walk, was a wizard-sage. The Queen asked us of our kingdom. We told her far away to the north, in the Celtic land of Nova Scotia. We said our kingdom was modest, but that our military was mighty with some of the finest warriors the world had ever seen.
“I think this young lord fancies to take you to his bedchamber, your grace,” the Queen’s lady in waiting said.
We all laughed, and she invited us back to court anytime we liked, and that there was a celiedh that night if we would like to join. I played some bagpipes around the renaissance faire for fun.
Jonathan and I watched the sheepdog competition. We watched this dogs take command of the field, like Taoist masters commanding the sheep from afar and directing them through obstacles and gates. The communication between the animals was of a higher intelligence than I reckon most people could understand. I was impressed by the subtlety and grace by which the dogs moved to send a wave of direction to the sheep, huddled up in a bunch and trotting towards the gates and barrels set up around the competition field.
There were bands playing, and some of them were really good. Albannaich was there, the band I met in Michigan earlier that summer. They were shocked to see me. They thought I was dead.
Jonathan and I stayed to watch the mass bands, when all the competition pipe bands play together. They played together with the Marine Corp Brass Band. It was about a thousand pipers and drummers playing in unison. There were tunes, songs, military demonstrations, and ceremonies.
As people were leaving to go back to the parking lot, I played my pipes near the exit. I played the most modern, original, and contemporary repertoire I had. I couldn’t see, but Jonathan commented that other bagpiper’s faces, as they walked by, we set with a stunned shock and disbelief. I do try and play in a way that people don’t normally hear.
We partied with the Queen and her court at the huge barbeque with all the Ren Faire folk. They are an odd bunch, certainly. We played and partied and drank with them, and I asked if they needed a piper. We stayed in touch.
The next day, I went to the Haight Ashbury neighborhood. A legendary place, the founding home of the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin, the hood in steeped in lore. The buildings are all designed by freemasons, the shops are full of endless cool trinkets and fashions. Hippies and “dog-people” roam the sidewalks. Occasionally a tweeker might be seen around a corner. Yellow Cadillac convertible rolling down the street, girls strutting their heeled boots and tight fashion, music coming from every corner. This place had something about it. Musicians everywhere.
A group of us formed and just hung out like the coolest kids on the planet. People from all over the world were all there singing songs, playing music, laughing, telling stories, having conversations. I hung out there for quite some time, and at the end of the night, one of the nice hippies we were hanging out with gave me two hits of acid in a little cardboard box that he folded himself, about a square centimeter.
The next day was Labor Day, and Jonathan invited me to go up to Marin and celebrate with his daughter Mathilde and Rebecca’s father. First, however, he told me to go on a mission to the sacred mountain Mount Tamplais. This mountain is the place where the beat poets would go to connect, a place with Ginsburg and Kerouac and Burroughs all would go to get sober. I got there on a hot September day, and didn’t particularly feel anything about it. I had a little bit of whiskey, which I felt make I should use in the meditation and make an offering of it (since Kerouac himself was a drinker), and then I thought about what kind of meditation practice I should do. Somehow I thought that there needed to be a bit of tantric practice, using some chants that actually make a statement, rather than just sitting there. I gathered a little bush of dried juniper and found a rock to sit on. Looking out over the San Francisco bay to the left, and Stinson Beach on the right, I made an offering of juniper smoke in a lhasang, a purification practice from my Buddhist tradition. I then did the tantric Buddhist practice called The Sadhana of Mahamudra, a tantric meditation practice written in Chogyam Trungpa about how to rouse the spirit and attitude to combat the draw to worldly materialism.
Our entire American and western culture has been corroborated with an agenda of materialistic consumption. In an effort to keep the industry machine working, society has been systematically engineered not only to produce and market commodities of entertainment, goods a services, but it keeps its consumers lulled into a false sense of security. Preying on their insecurity, the purveyors of the material world keep the grand illusion of money active. No longer are people merely satisfied with life, but they constantly crave more. Always believing that a better world exists beyond this one, people are constantly in search of meaning. Because people are never satisfied, they are constantly in a state of discomfort and discontent. This attitude pervades every aspect of life in mainstream America. It has resulted in the destruction of the land, the desertification of the forests, the combustion of coal and oil and gas, the bankruptcy of religion and moral values, the advertising industry that keeps people in a constant state of inadequacy and consumption, and the promotion of war and violence.
The Sadhana of Mahamudra is a poem about how to cut through all of that. Before industry, before religious institutionalism, before the church worked to convince the masses that they were all sinners in need of the higher power of God, people were living in peace with each other. Despite the debate between the classic western philosophers Rousseau and Hobbes on the nature of good and evil, it is simply a fact that human beings who live in nature are by nature peaceful and contented. They possess awareness that connects them with all life. They know how to communicate not just with each other in language, but with plants and animals too. They understood the importance of health and the power of herbs and plants as medicine. A person living in the state of nature is not an uncivilized beast, as Hobbes might claim, but that person, if endowed with nutrition and basic sanity, is a peaceful and complete person.
The Sadhana teaches the meditation practitioner that underneath all the conditioning that we have had our whole lives, people have basic wisdom that reconnects them to an original sense of purpose and happiness. This purpose has absolutely nothing to do with any notion of original sin. In Buddhism, there is no original sin. Where there is evil, Buddhists would say it is confusion. Where there is sin, Buddhists would say that those people were simply too weak to have clear understanding. Buddhists would say that people who commit acts of violence are merely products of their conditioning, and that all people simply would like to be happy and healthy. In this global world it is an enormous privilege to be happy and healthy, where so much of the world is governed by leaders who are still entrenched in the ideologies of war and conquest, at the expense of the people who suffer and die for the ambitions of a few wealthy individuals. Although the Buddha’s first teachings are about taking account of one’s life and being responsible for one’s personal suffering, in this world many of us have to find that responsibility while being at the mercy of people who govern and control society. Often times, people are displaced but extraneous circumstances. In order for there to be peace on this earth, our leaders must have the vision to be of service to the greater purpose of human growth and evolution, not in the service to the interests of a few powerful people. In order to promote health on a global economic and environmentally sustainable world, I believe that people must learn to let go of the fancy gadgets and reconnect with the principles of nature, to understand the way of life peace. For the ways of industry and product marketing is a way of waste.
I took a big swig of the whiskey and chanted the Sadhana. After the chanting, I felt suddenly a very powerful connection to the mountain. There was a sensation of opening in my throat, like opening the throat chakra. I started singing lyrics and spontaneously composing poetry describing all the phenomenon of nature I saw around me. I felt like I was communicating in ways I never thought possible.
I spent the afternoon with Jonathan and his family in Marin, and later that evening drove down to San Francisco. I went to the lookout point in the middle of the city, and then went to the mission district to see some classical music jam and this bar called Revolution. The curator of the music was this very pretentious fellow who had a nasty habit of always talking down to people. Despite this, the music was great. During the session, I suddenly became aware of a putrid stench, and looking over I saw a homeless man had wandered in from the sidewalk. He had a crazed look of desperation in his eyes, and he reached forward and grabbed a handful of money from the tip jar. Running out the door, a young man ran after him. I thought to follow the young man in hot pursuit. The man was talking to the homeless junkie, asking him repeatedly to give back the money. As a musician, I was sticking up for my fellow musicians who deserved this money far more than this desperate homeless man did. Eventually, the young man wrestled the money from the hands of the homeless man. This led to the homeless man cursing him out and threatening his life. We went back to the jam session, and had a drink afterwards. This young fellow told me about going to Standing Rock, and put into my mind the intention to go there and help the fight of the Lakota against the oil empire.
At the end of the night, making my way back to the homestead in Oakland, I started to bubble with excitement about the coming morrow. I was to going to find it, the purpose of this whole journey, and how that would effect and change my life was yet to be understood. That I was suddenly awakened to the lineage of the beat poets was the perfect preparation for what was about to occur, and I slept soundly in anticipation of the adventure yet to come.
The Secret of Rhythm
I awoke that day with a sense of purpose. The night before was a strange night, and to this day I was excited with the promise of a psychedelic experience. I was determined to visit the Conservatory of Flowers, in Golden Gate Park, and I was going to take the acid that the Haight hippie had given me a few nights before. I dressed loosely in my new tartan pants and my loose-fitting blue sweater. Despite it being Labor Day weekend, it was extremely chilly in San Francisco, reminding me of that famous quote by Mark Twain: “The coldest winter I’ve ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”
I parked my car on the hills above the Haight/Ashbury block, and took my bagpipe case on a walk down the end of the road and into the park, heading through the winding footpaths to the Conservatory of Flowers. The conservatory stood like a temple in a courtyard of tropical trees and plants. The whole place plumed with the smell of fresh flowers. Connecting Golden Gate Park to the courtyard was a long tunnel, under which there was a four piece jazz ensemble playing. I figured this was a good place to start. I played percussion with the group for a little while, playing Summertime and Brubeck’s Take Five. Then they packed up their instruments and wandered off. I took out my bagpipes and started playing.
I did not have the ambition to make a lot in tips. For me this was more of an offering to the environment, a spiritual practice. I stood on the opposite end of the tunnel to give the sound both a sense of space and of reverb. I was making tips, selling CDs, people were loving it. Even Barbara Meier showed up, Jerry Garcia’s lifelong girlfriend, also a Buddhist student of Chögyam Trungpa and Suzuki Roshi. She loved my music. We talked about mutual friends we had, and she bought a CD. I felt she blessed me somehow. Often in myths and legends of the old Buddhist masters of ancient India, on a particular cornerstone chapters of their journeys, a mysterious dakini comes and blesses them as they become ready to receive a special transmission. Of course I was not thinking this at the time, I was just happy to have made a new friend. I did not even know who she was until months later I watched the Grateful Dead documentary Long Strange Trip on Amazon. What makes me think of her importance in this story is how the rest of the day transpired.
I was on fire busking. Relaxed, subtle, and flowing. I felt it was time. I opened the little box holding the LSD, made a subtle bow with it, acknowledging the moment, placed the paper on my tongue, and swallowed it.
I kept busking, allowing the substance to settle in to the flow of the spirit of music. As I began to feel the rhythm contract, expand, and elasticate, I noticed too that I stopped making any tips. I stopped playing and heard in the distance some other music, so I figured that we were clashing and was not good for either of us. I packed up my gear and went into the Conservatory. It was free that day because of the holiday weekend. They kindly stowed my pipes away behind the front desk, and I walked into the greenhouse without any expectations.
The Conservatory, a huge greenhouse steaming with moist warm tropical air, was like entering a jungle. I walked in to a dimly lit green full of gigantic green leaf pedals over water fountain bowls. Where are the flowers? I thought. Then I saw it, a flash of color from behind the pedals. I looked behind to see a lone orchid peeking out, as though looking right at me. “Hey there”, I said. It started to slowly move towards me, and as it got closer, descending from above, appeared a dozen other orchids, slowly lowering themselves down to me. Like Alice in Wonderland, or Peter Panning in Hook, the flowers all came right up to me, inviting me to smell their aromas. I went around to every one of them and inhaled deeply their rare fragrances. They all fumed their fragrance at me, drowning me in their scent.
I continued through the greenhouse, seeing all variety of rare orchids from jungles all over the world. I went around and tickled all the carnivorous flowers, with their big sacks of fly-traps. As I tickled them under their traps, they all seemed to giggle and shake a little. Orchids of all persuasion flumed to me as I approached, and I allowed them to cast their spells on me, these princesses of ancient floral lineages. I sensed that some of these flowers were far older in their ancestral lines than I could even imagine, that their ancestors lived for millions of years undisturbed in some jungle paradise, until discovered by botanists who brought back seeds to the new world, for people like me to experience.
I went around all of the flowers and took selfies with them on my phone and posted them to Instagram.
There was one orchid there, a crown jewel of the collection that stood in the most sexual way. It is the same orchid in the animations of Pink Floyd’s The Wall. With only three pedals, one standing like a neck and the other two open in front like a woman spreading her legs, I quickly went in for a smell. I was shocked to discover the fragrance of this particular flower was pungent and foul, like a vagina in heat. My hormones instantly rushed up through my body, causing a moment of lightheaded-ness. I was sexually aroused in an instant of bliss, and slightly repulsed by the stench of the frangrance. I would mess with people and get them to smell it, just to see how they would react to it.
I sat on the bench in the little nook of the indoor garden, and bathed in the thick floral air. I sat there just smelling and appreciating for hours.
The Conservatory was finally closing, so I grabbed my case and headed outside. It was just getting to dusk. At this point, the LSD was in full effect, and I was peaking in full communication with whatever cosmic sensation I was experiencing. Hearing drum beats from around the bend, I headed that direction, and in so doing, walked straight in to a perpetual déja-vu. I walked down the steps to a parking lot cornered by a massive Aloe Vera garden, with massive spiny tentacles swirling about. A group of musicians were gathered there, and had a nice set up with a keyboard, a guitar, a microphone, several flutes and recorders, and several congas and djembes. There were four old guys sitting there playing the deepest, darkest, gnarliest rhythms I had ever heard. I recognized them all, as though I had been there before. I had been there before, in a dream I had maybe ten years prior. I remember them vividly. In that dream, I remember a voice that spoke to me, a mystic woman’s voice:
If you want to know the secret of rhythm,
You have to go to the garden of Eden.
At dusk, you will meet the four horsemen of the apocalypse,
And the one with the red eyes will invite you
Into the court of the Goddess,
And she will show you the secret of rhythm.
One of the four drummers wore red-tinted glasses. He looked up at me. He said, “Hey! You play music?”
I said, “yeah!”
He said, “well, come on!” and waved his hand beckoning me. I grabbed a long djembe, and sat down with them. I listened carefully and really locked into their groove. One of the drummers was this crusty looking old Puerto Rican guy, wearing a hoodie over his head with large aviator shades. He started playing all this little micro rhythms. The other drummers responded in kind. The groove got deeper and flowed heavier with each moment. I heard singing, like a chorus coming from the space around us. I felt as though spirits were dancing in circles around the musicians. The sky turned a bright orange hue and the sun vanished behind the horizon. At that moment, I felt something enter my body through the crown of my head and settle in my heart center, radiating intense heat. At that moment I needed no longer make any effort to stay in time with the other drummers, and I locked in to the groove. In an instant, this sensation of warmth in my chest revealed to me secrets of music that I had always been searching for, the secret bridge that bonds the material and the spiritual with universal music. A feeling of tremendous expansion flowed through me into my hands, into the drum. I felt embraced with love and kindness by whatever had possessed my body. When we stopped the groove, we all laughed. “Well, that was something,” the man with the red glasses said.
(Months later, on my second trip to San Francisco, I would befriend that man and that crew. Orlando, then wearing blue tinted glasses, a Puerto Rican Santeria priest, told me stories of that place that go back into the 1960’s, back in the original days of the summer of love and the rise of the Dead, Janis, Jimi, and Santana. He and the crusty fellow, another Puerto Rican named Emilio, were lineage holders in the rhythmic traditions of the Caribbean and Africa. The beats they were playing were traditional Orisha rhythms, and the songs he was singing were traditional Santeria songs. Orlando wanted me to do a ceremony with him, to which I politely refused, having already specific spiritual commitments, none of which compatible with sacrificing chickens or goats in a voodoo ceremony.)
The rest of the night we played the greatest jam session I have ever had. The music we made was powerful. Rock stars and musicians appeared from all corners of the park to play with us, as though I was being initiated into the church of rock. Everyone was really nice, and familiar in the deja-vu way. A Cheshire cat fellow appeared at one point behind two congas, looking at me with eyes of madness and eyebrows of mischief. I took out my pipes and we played our instruments as though they were giant diamond drills mining a deep hole into the center of the earth. The rock was heavy. The spirits were out.
A man showed up and played with us, a tall Korean man wearing roller skates. We played as the animals started to appear from the aloe vera garden. Possums, raccoons, mice, and rats all came poking their noses out smelling us and hearing our music. I figured it was time to give the garden back to the animals who live there at night.
As the jam was drawing to close late in the night, I heard strange sounds in the distance deeper in the park. A scream, a yell, and an eerie silence. A chill had come over the night air and I suddenly felt vulnerable. Carrying my instruments in the case, being a stranger in a strange land, I didn’t want to walk back to Haight Street alone. So I politely asked the Korean fellow, named Wu, if he wanted to walk back to the hood on the Haight. While we were walking, he starts demonstrating to me his knowledge of Hwarangdo, a Korean martial art practiced by the royal families of Korea. He showed me five different hand positions to use as a blade in combat. He started talking about lethal pressure points and I was like damn, I picked the right guy for a protector.
We sauntered back to the hood and went to a bar called The Gold King. The bartender generously poured a dram of Laphroaig. It was only $8 so I bought one for Wu too. Then we played pool. He showed me some trick shots. He was maybe in his 40’s. He tells me that he’s a prince from a long line of Korean royalty. Who knows? To me we were just a couple of musicians hanging out.
We went outside, it was maybe 2am. Outside the King, a guitarman is sitting on the ground with a group of hippies playing that guitar like a hammer and nail. He played that guitar so hard that he wore a face as though squeezing through repeating wormholes in space-time. I couldn’t tell if he was tripping like me, but at that point I assumed that everybody was. The guitarman played all the classic songs that I used to listen to in high school. All the best songs by Led Zeppelin, Frank Zappa, The Beatles, Neil Young, Stevie Ray Vaughan. He played that guitar like he had written the songs in the first place. His authority of the music, his rock solid rhythm, his unbelievable facial expression, and his command of the guitar was the best I have ever heard. He drew all my favorite songs out of my mind, that I knew all the words to, and one tune after another we sang and played together into the night. A woman was there, wearing a circus brim hat. She said with a British lilt, “I haven’t been this happy since I was seventeen.”
After we played the night away, I retired to my car and drove swiftly through San Francisco. Every light switched from red to green as I approached, and I was guided safely across the Bay Bridge into Oakland, to Jonathan and Rebecca’s House, up the stairs, and into the bed. Falling asleep instantaneously, awoke the next morning to both my hosts looking at me from above.
I smiled. “Guys. I found it!”
They laughed. “What did you find?” Jonathan inquired?
“The secret… of rhythm.”
“Nice.” They said in unison.
After that day I finally understood and appreciated the music of the Grateful Dead. There is a pulse, a living drala of rock n’ roll, that lives in San Francisco. It guides everyone by it’s beat, compelling the people who go there to take a trip into the unknown, and to abandon the conventional rules of material society behind. I can’t say it’s the true way, but it has brought many people to authentic realizations.
romance on shambhala mountain and
the ghost of harry wilkes
After leaving San Francisco behind me, I drove with insane determination, as I had nearly two thousand miles between me and my destination. The Nature tour was booked to perform for a weekend at the Pyramid Hill Sculpture Garden in Hamilton, Ohio, and I had 8 days to get there.
I drove on I-80 heading east. Driving past Donner Lake, Reno overnight, through the desert to sleep in the car under a starbright desert sky. Waking up in the desert just west of Salt Lake City, seeing the crimson sunrise fill the vast valleys and canyons in the red desert. The blue sky above with a red mist to the ground, like Mars, with dead salt flats extending for miles into the distance. Driving, endless driving, listening to audiobooks and gangster rap and Scottish trad to keep my mind straight and true. Hours on hours of driving. As I drive through eastern Utah, having a proper restorative breakfast in Park City, I realized I had a little extra time to make it to Hamilton, and that I could stop for a visit at an old favorite, the Shambhala Mountain Center in northern Colorado.
The Mountain Center is a traditional Buddhist retreat center, a rugged highland valley contained by castle mountains that boasts facilitation of yearly meditation training programs, yoga retreats, and other specialized mindfulness retreats based on contemplative practice. I have been going to Shambhala Mountain for since I was two years old, and have had many special summers there, where I had undergone deeper training in Buddhism and meditation practice.
I drive through the day and in several hours I found myself taking I-25 south the Owl Canyon Road, the shortcut to the mountain retreat. I find myself driving through the mountain pass I had driven through so many times before, that I might expect a moment of deja-vu, yet every time I make that drive it feels fresh, and it still feels like I could get lost.
Though, just after the several minutes of doubt that you may have overshot the turn, there it comes from just over the hill. Taking the left onto Boy Scout road and driving through the winding dirt roads, power sliding around the hilly turns, and coming to the entrance of Shambhala, marked by two long standing penant banners blowing in the wind, in traditional Tibetan style. I drive in and park my car. I go inside one of the main buildings, the Sacred Studies building, to wash up and change into some fresh clothes before I present myself to the staff at the Mountain Center. As I’m leaving the building after getting refreshed, a young blonde woman crosses paths with me. “Hey!” I said, and she said hey back and smiled, quickly headed on her way.
I walk into the “downtown” area, where the main dining tent looms over the outdoor dining area that is contained by a crude zen rock garden. I meet Chris, who sets me up with a room and a place to stay, and I hook up with Tseten, my half-tibetan friend, who hooks me up with a guest pass. I run into old friends right away, people that I have known for years.
Once upon a time, in my younger years, I was intensely involved in pursuing my spiritual path, to which I connected strongly starting from pre-pubescent adolescence. My life was and still is a spiritual and religious one. On more than a few occasions I was present either serving as a ceremonial assistant, instructor, preceptor, or protector at dozens of religious ceremonies. For years I deepened in the training mediation, studying the texts and writings of the great Buddhist saints of the past, great poet yogis who relentlessly pursued the discipline of the warrior-practitioner. This included all the elements of Vajrayana Buddhist training, guided by luminary Tibetan meditation lamas like the Sakyong, Mipham Rinpoche, Penor Rinpoche, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Thrangu Rinpoche, Lingtrul Rinpoche, Mingyur Rinpoche, and many others, and great western teachers as well, like Acharyas Fleet Maull and Judith Simmer-Brown. Since I was born into this religion, and since I took to it at such a young age, I was eagerly trained and supported in this path by the whole community, reaching a distinctive level of study and training after completing a degree in Religious Studies at Naropa University at twenty-six.
After a time living in New York City, I had since become disillusioned with religious life and am now conditioned by the trauma of life as I have experienced the suffering of myself and others in ways that cause me to be cynical and cautious, no longer naïve and foolish to get into questionable situations. In the constant pursuit of money, there were many opportunities and communities that use meditation and spirituality to earn a profit. After receiving such rich training for my entire young life, as an adult something inside me is revolted by the business of spirituality. I reject the professional Buddhist attitude with mediation marketers who use the teachings of meditation and Buddhism to make money and turn dharma teaching towards consumer-level spirituality.
I always believed that meditation is free, and as a meditation instructor I have always offered it freely. Perhaps it is a tremendous privilege that I was able to have access to this kind of spiritual training. For many, value is often attributed to how much it costs, and a person with money values deeply what they spend their money on, especially financing a spiritual path. This is not something I needed to consider in my young age, when I grew up in a supportive community that valued my community input as much as it supported my spiritual training. I believe it is something a person needs to cultivate individually, something deeply personal. When I hear that people charge large fees for meditation instruction, something sadly feels like some great holy law has been violated. This has been digging a chip on my shoulder. Something about it feels wrong.
I carry this with me as I drive onwards towards adventure, seeking myself again to pursue the perfection of musician-gypsy life. I am constantly wishing to be free of it, though it digs in my heart and continues to haunt me, a murmured whisper I must reconnect with that part of my life, being involved in helping others learn and practice mediation, in order to truly be fulfilled.
Returning to the Mountain Center is a way for me to reconnect with the land that originally inspired me, before being spiritually crushed in the urban superscape of New York. I got an invite to a barbeque, and wore my tie-dye heart pedaled headband and my linen sport jacket. Old friends whom I have known for years and I got drunk on wine under the highland sunset, eating grilled burgers, sausages and vegetables. Surrounded by pines, squirrels, tall thin birch trees. The blonde girl was there, Mary, and we it off right away. We were insparable the rest of the night, in a really relaxed and flirtatious way. We could feel it immediately, a deep connection so rare, so fearless. We went to an after party, and as we stood on the patio under the moonlight, we kissed and held each other close, softly touching our hands together as our lips made contact in brief moments of thoughtless bliss.
We spent the night together, and what turned into a night, turned into a weekend. The kind of sudden passionate love reserved for the young was happening to me again. For years I had spent working, lonely and missing the love of the women that I had let go of in the past. Even as I drove out into the western desert on my music odyssey, sex was the last thing on my mind. Now love had fallen into my hands, and I was swimming in the most indulgent nectar of it. Holding each other throughout the night, naked, our electric auras intermingling in long moments of contented silence. Making love again and again, every time feeling passion consume our minds, drunk with pleasure, blissful in love.
Shambhala Mountain Center is home to a temple called the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya. It is a Tibetan style stupa in a courtyard with a view of the highland meadow above, sectioned off by a tori gate. Going into the stupa is a powerful experience. The whole place is charged with immense spiritual power. One cannot help but feel completely awake in it. There is a large golden Buddha ten feet tall, Gandharan in style, seated on a lotus throne, also covered in gold leaf.
Above the meadow with the tori gate is another tori gate that sections off the kami shrine to Amaterasu, the Sun-Goddess of the Shinto religion of Japan. She lives there in a secret shrine house typical of traditional Japanese kami shrines. Legend has it that Chögyam Trungpa, in the 1980’s, when he travelled to Japan, befriended the Goddess and then took her with him back to America. He had been saying that Japan had lost it’s way since they sided with the Nazi’s during World War Two, and that Amaterasu wanted a change. Basically, he kidnapped a Goddess and gave her a home in the mountains. I did some meditation practice in both these sacred places, the stupa and the shrine, and stayed the night again with Mary.
She is slender and tall, though she stands with an endearing awkward slouch. She is devoted to meditation, and wants to get serious about her practice. Her skin is softer than flower pedals. We spend the night making love in her tent.
I left on the morning a day later than I planned, and I knew I had to make for determined driving, without long rests, the rest of the way to Cincinnati. I bid farewell to Mary and my friends, and started back driving on the dirt road. I drove down to Denver and merged on the I-70 headed east.
The road through Kansas is the worst part of every drive cross-country. Seeing the fields of wind turbines is awe inspiring, and the many “Jesus saves” and large megachurches along the interstate. Separated by hundreds of miles these little settlements along the highway, some little towns. I drove through the night and finally pulled over in Lawrence. I slept in Rhonda the Honda in a church parking lot.
The next morning I treated myself to a diner breakfast, to help me feel together before embarking on the next mad stretch of miles. Drinking about 4 cups of coffee over eating some biscuits and gravy. Balanced and satisfied, I started out towards the toll entrance to the freeway. As I was driving toward the toll I saw a hitchhiker with a sign, sitting off the road. As I drove by, I saw his sign: “EAST.” He looked up at me and our eyes made contact. He had a hopeful look in his eyes. I pulled over. He came running up.
“Where you going?” I ask.
“East!” he says. “Where are you going?”
“Cincinnati!” I say.
“I’m coming with you!”
“Get in!” I wave my hand. He opens the door and just jumps in with his huge rucksack. “Fucking get that thing back there.”
“Whoops, sorry.” He gets out and puts his pack in the backseat. He jumps in front, the door closes and we’re off.
“I’m Andrew.” I say, extending my hand.
“Hi! I’m Slinky!” He takes my hand in a brief handshake. He has a long beard, scraggily hair, wearing psychedelic tie dye pants. He wore a loose fitting polyester shirt-jacket and a Grateful Dead t-shirt. He was stoked to be getting a ride. He smelled like he'd been camping for a season.
We drove on to the freeway and he tells me, “I don’t have a lot for gas money, I mean, I can give you what I have.”
“That’s cool. You have a license?”
"Great, you can help with some driving." I was relieved about that.
“But I do have with me some other kind of money.” He pulls out a jar of weed.
We listen to the Dead, Miles Davis, Santana, Outkast, and drive through the night like road warrior pimps. Slinky was just on tour following the Dead & Co. around the west coast, and had been since to five concerts. The original surviving Grateful Dead members were on tour with their special band, with John Mayer filling in for Jerry Garcia. He was an interesting fellow, a hippie on pilgrimage, rolling with the vibrations of the secret music of life. He was headed to his grandmother’s place in Cincinnati as well. We slept for a few hours in the car before sunrise, and started off again through the day, stopping at my favorite diner, the Blue Springs Cafe. The best fried chicken ever, with pickled beets that will blow your mind. Slinky and I split a meal 70-30, since I paid for it, and was basically covering gas. He had given me all his money Slinky was definitely helping with his companionship and his helping with driving. We were making great time. It was not until sundown that the lights of Cincinnati sparkled on the horizon, and we drove through the bi-ways and turnpikes to come to the sleepy little town of Hamilton. I asked if Slinky wanted to be dropped off at his grandmother’s house, but he insisted on getting dropped off at the local McDonald’s.
Then I finally made it to the Pyramid Hill Sculpture Garden. I turned towards a lone standing hill, encased with tall bushes and forest, and drove uphill into a strange land. There were statues and structures and sculptures all around. As I drove on the road through the park, what could have been a golf course at some time, I came to a driveway. I entered, and pulled into the parking lot, at a grand entrance to an underground mansion. Nate, another cast and crew member, comes out and welcomes me. “Dude! Welcome!” We gave each other a big bro hug.
“Where are you coming from?”
“San Francisco, man.”
His eye lit up. “Whaaoo. That’s insane. How was the drive?” We walk to the door. He mentions what he’s been up to in Minnesota. He looks at me. “Are you ready for this?” He opens the doors and we walk into a hallway leading to a great room 100 feet from wall to wall, with a giant Persian rug, a Steinway gold piano in the corner, Egyptian style pillars, Egyptian art on the wall, and a wooden sarcophagus above the mantle on the opposite wall of the massive fireplace. Two luxurious white couches contained the fireplace, and the ceiling was a glass pyramid, like the Louvre, pointing up to the sky. It had a small cubby kitchen and bedrooms near the back patio (swimming pool) and the main entrance in the front.
It was late, and Nate and I bid goodnight as I settled onto an air mattress. The next day, to work! The crew spent all day setting up the stages and sets for the play. The Sculpture garden, a former golf course, is very hilly, and getting the trailer parked to strategic points to unload was hard enough, but then lugging cedar and steel up hills was a work-out that made me forget I just spent several days driving.
We accomplished the set-up on schedule and as we returned to the mansion the cast began to show up. We had all just spent a month together in Chicago perfecting the show, and demanded at party! Everyone brought some food and liquor, and I brought some boxed red wine to share. We reveled through the night, sharing the legend of Harry and talking about the artifacts in the mansion.
The late Harry Wilkes was a notoriously gregarious defense lawyer and international art dealer. His legal representation was notoriously corrupt, servicing gangsters and cirminals, and his art dealings were shady and scandalous. He amassed such a tremendous art collection that he transformed the only hill in the area into his personal outdoor museum. He had a fascination with antiquities, especially Egyptian artifacts. Fancying himself the lord of Hamilton, from his citadel pinnacle, he built himself a tomb to die in and be eternally remembered. The wooden sarcophagus was particularly scandalous. Wilkes had acquired it through some black market deal, and it was obviously one of his most prized pieces. The odd thing was that the sarcophagus was cursed. Nobody knew what the curse was, but the legend is that if you touch it, you become cursed as well. International art syndicates and museum partnerships had been trying for decades to repossess this particular sarcophagus, but nobody wanted to pick it up because nobody wanted to touch it. Harry had only died in 2014, and it being 2016 at the time, the mansion was still unused since his death. We were apparently the first guests to stay there since his death.
During the party, I was especially conscientious of my wine drinking. I was very careful not to spill it on the rug, carpet or furniture, especially those beautiful white couches. Still, I had managed to pass out on one of them, dozing under the overturned bowl of the glass pyramid ceiling, holding a crystal glass of Back Box Shiraz. Something rustled through my body and I shuddered for a moment. From my sleep I felt the glass jostle and heard a drop spill on the couch. I woke up abruptly and saw the spill. I rushed to the fridge and pulled out some seltzer water, went back to the couch, and managed to get the stain out. Whew!
I did not tell anyone about the spill, because I figured what nobody knows won’t hurt them. That day we went through our tech rehearsal and then got set up for the show. In our costumes, with everything set up perfectly, with the sun shining and the clouds peppering the sky, we were excited for what looked like a perfect show. 15 minutes from show time, our tour manager gave us a warning that an isolated weather pattern was headed straight for us. People had started showing up for the show, but as they arrived the sky began to darken. Five minutes to curtain, a black cloud grew over the largest sculpture in the park, a sixty foot high metal sculpture on the top-most part of the hill. I was standing about 100 yards away from it when a lightening bolt struck it, causing a deafening thunderclap. According to our rules and legal limitations, we were forced to cancel the show. Twenty minutes later, the sky was clear again. Dismayed but not defeated, we performed a showcase for our audience members at another party that was happening in the clubhouse (which was also the indoor part of the museum). At that party, I learned from the groundskeeper that Harry had really only one rule at his parties. Red wine was banned from parties at the mansion. That information would have really come in handy.
I felt totally responsible. Harry Wilkes knew that I had spilt wine on the couch. No one else knew, but somehow he did! His ghost came and canceled the show with lightening. That night, I took the box of wine and put it outside the door, I walked up to the haunted sarcophagus and looked it in the eyes. I said, “I’m truly sorry. I didn’t know about the rule regarding red wine. Please accept my sincere apology.” At that moment, the display light above the sarcophagus went on. I think that meant he accepted. The rest of the weekend the weather was perfect and the performances were spellbinding.
The crew and cast all got into shenanigans that weekend too. One of our cast members, Tony, was a fanatic about ghosts and Ghost Hunters, a television show about people investigating haunted houses and ghost legends. He knew about this famous haunted honky-tonk country western bar in Kentucky, about 25 minutes away, called Bobby Mackey’s Music World. In the basement, according to legend, is the gateway to hell in a well.
The venue was full of ten-gallon hats, tight jeans, white girls, cowboy boots and belt-buckles. Bobby Mackey himself was playing music on the stage with his band. There was a mechanical bull throwing people off it on one side of the bar, and the air was loaded with cigarette smoke. In that part of Kentucky, which is where Newport cigarettes are made, a pack of smokes is only $1. Everybody smoked, and everybody looked with vampires, pale, slightly-greenish hue, gaunt faces and empty sunken eyes. Some of us came to the bar dressed a little hippyish, which caught us some awkward glances from some of the ten-gallon hat wearing dudes. Also, some of our cast is of homosexual persuasion, and do not hide it. That too, earned us some shifty-eyed glares. Still though, bottles of Budweiser were only two dollars.
Nearly one hundred years ago, two friends had murdered a girlfriend over a fidelity dispute, cut over her head and threw it down the well. This was the beginning of what was to continue has strange poltergeist occurrences, and throughout the history of the building, which was a casino and brothel before it was a honky-tonk venue. A group of us went on the tour, which took us down below into the basement, where they showed us around all the various rooms that the girls would do their make-up, where the dancers would get dressed, where the girls could put their children during their work-hours, and rooms where the mob would torture people who didn’t make good on their debts.
And then they showed us the well. I looked over the fence that guarded people from falling in it as far as I could and peered down the shadowy hole in the ground. I felt a cool chill run up my spine.
Of course, it could all be a superstitious hoax. In all likelihood, it is. Yet as an empath, I certainly can detect vibes in spaces, and no doubt in this place, I felt a cold and sinister evil, the karmic residue of torture, murder, and death. No doubt to me ghosts haunt this place, what ghosts though, I am not sure. And as someone who does not believe hell lies below us, but believes that hell is more a dimensional state of mind, a “portal to hell” sure seems far-fetched. Yet, in my imagination, I can see the severed head of the girl that was thrown down there, a skull clad with ultimate negative energy opening a transdimensional gateway for which that kind of darkness may nurture and grow.
Busking New York City
Some people have never heard the word busking or know what a busker is. In short, a busker is a public performer that entertains in public places, often for tips and donations, sometimes selling goods. A busker is a performer of remarkable feats, illusion and tricks, theater and comedy, and music. Many great artists and comedians started their careers as buskers, luminaries like John Mayer, Béla Fleck, and Dave Chappelle. I have been a busker since I was only fifteen years old, playing pipes on the Halifax Waterfront. I have busked all over the world, and eventually every busker finds their way to New York. In New York City, busking is a way for life for many. The city is constantly buzzing with music coming from the streets, the subways, and the parks. There is even a busking union, and Music Under New York, the official municipal musicians busking organization, showcasing at all the best locations the MTA has to offer. The waves of creativity and music help tie the metropolis to a magical sensibility of connection. New York is a magical place where people find themselves and each other.
When I lived in Hamilton Heights for several years, daily I would take the subway down into the city to work, often in midtown, downtown, Queens, or Brooklyn. As a commuter I would take the train at least six times a day. As time passed, New York seemed to me like an assortment of experiences in different buildings and neighborhoods all bound together by the subway. Life happened in between subway rides. This made for a feeling of perpetual déja vu. Yet every day I was treated to live music as I travelled from one location to another. On the long express subway ride from 125th street down to 59th street Columbus Circle, a percussionist would play traditional Afro-Cuban rhythms as we sailed underground beneath Central Park. When I would get off to transfer to the F train on West 4th street, there might be a bass player, drummer, and sax player rocking out on the platform. Sometimes an electric guitar would be soloing away to a prerecorded backing track, or a woman might be singing classic Motown and R&B songs. I was never far from a posse of crooners singing Stand By Me or Long Time Coming. Getting on the train, going under the East River to Brooklyn, there might be a showtime performance, a bunch of kids with boom boxes and sneakers breakdance on the train as it is moving, using the handrailings as props to do acrobatic breakdancing stunts to current hits of Taylor Swift or Adele or Justin Beiber. After work in Brooklyn, I would maybe take the G train up to Williamsburg to meet up with my girlfriend Lia for dinner at some hipster spot, and when getting off the G at the Metropolitan Avenue subway station my good friend Premo Massiv might be playing his one-man band variety of original pop blues, always bringing a smile to the people waiting on the platform for the next train to take them away, and the tip jar swells as each train comes and people throw in a few dollars for the special moment.
I would stand and listen to a few sets, the hum of the florescent lights bathing me in their artificial glow, listening to the soft and soultry songs of Premo’s upbeat compositions, with fashionable hipsters standing in their choreographed outfits and oversized glasses, smiling under the light. The wind rises and the train beckons, and the tin sound ten tonnes of steel grinding on steel quickly gets louder, the headlights of the train appearing from down the tunnel soon rushing past you in a gust. It is now so noisy that Premo’s music practically vanishes in the deafening white noise. He stops playing and patiently waits for the train doors to close and take off once again, affording him a few minutes of quiet enough to play another song. As Premo waited patiently for the train, I’m sure he was practicing his Zen, trying not to let the intense sound of the New York subway to deter him from his music.
Meeting up with Lia, there would probably be a music performance at the restaurant or bar. This was a typical day in the city, and day after day, I lived in this cycle of hard work and constant stimulation and creativity.
Every day there was music constantly around the city. At least a million musicians live in New York, making the urban environment ooze creativity and stimulation. As I held down several part-time jobs, working too as a professional musician constantly getting all kinds of different gigs for recording and performing, constantly busy and traveling with my pipes in a backpack or suitcase, I would work during the day and go busk in the evening, making some of my daily incomes sustainable for a time. “Hustle or die,” became my motto. Playing bagpipes as a busker, meaning just finding a spot, setting up a tip jar, and playing to people as they pass by, needs to be done in a tasteful and considerate way. Scottish bagpipes, infamous for their volume and pitch, should not be played in confined spaces. Playing on the subway platforms is an absolutely desperate last resort. Sometimes living in the city I was so broke that I was forced to play in the subways. I tried busking in the financial district, in Brooklyn, in Harlem and in Morningside Heights, the Lower East Side and midtown. For the most part, I restricted myself to playing in the glorious parks in Manhattan, centered around Greenwich Village and Central Park, that boast epic architectural design, a constant stream of tourists, and a feeling of majesty and power. My favorite place to play in the city is Central Park, though I could be seen weekly at Washington Square Park and Union Square.
On a weekday morning, if I was up early enough, I would walk into Central Park from the west 72nd Street entrance by Strawberry Fields. I would walk past the Lennon Memorial and down the path past the juniper grove, walking through the road intersection with the statue of Daniel Webster. Up the hill past the lake towards Bethesda Fountain, the Naumberg Bandshell appears through the trees. The Bandshell, in the classic architectural design of the classic New York prewar era, is a perfect acoustic resonance. When I stand in the center front and play the pipes, the bandshell reverberates and amplifies the music. The sound of my bagpipes catch the wind and sail all the way to 59th Street. With only early birds, runners, and tourists walking by, pedestrian traffic is not particularly high, but the tips don’t stop flowing into my pipe case. For an early morning busk for a little over an hour, I pull in a sweet $100 average. I’ve gotten very good at counting money by hand.
The huge brick courtyard in front of the bandshell is enclosed by tall trees of oak and maple and the wind blows the branches fiercely in all directions, people are rollerblading, dog-walking, strolling. Sometimes Asian people dressed in wedding clothes come and model by the park’s landmarks, with photographers and lighting specialists. Sometimes stars and celebrities walk by. Most people walking by look fabulous. This place is so uplifted, so perfectly situated for spontaneous concerts, that a sense of majesty dawns and the music begins to transcend.
Union Square, on the other hand, is one of the dirtiest spots in the world. The odor of urine and rat blanket the drab square, with artist vendors arranged in lines, showing their paintings and photos and wares. Whole Foods Market, Forever 21, and Best Buy all rim the south side of the square, while NYU housing complexes and Starbucks and the Coffee Shop Bar rim the west side where in the large pedestrian square two subway station stairwells rise up from the underground. Right here, there are two vending medallions on the ground. These medallions mark the location where the music can be performed and is protected by the Parks Police. When I strike up the pipes and make a scene, crowds of dozens growing to hundreds seem to instantly gather. People of all ages, all races, all religions, all persuasions, from all over the world stop and listen, dance, and take pictures. Slick haired European tourist families, skinny long-legged models, doe-eyed Japanese tourists wielding cameras, Nichiren Buddhists handing out pamphlets, fake monks soliciting donations and handing out good luck charms, Mormons, Hari Krishnas, homeless people smelling like garbage and whiskey, NYU undergrads, and chic local fashionistas perfectly accessorized, and artists of all mediums all congregate on this large square where I would play weekly. On Sunday afternoons, Michael Morales, a drummer who I worked with for many years, founding Scottish Octopus, would join me on a small bop drum kit, and the two of us would put on a matinee showcase with pipes and drums. Many dozens of times over the years between 2011 and 2018 Morales and I developed a loyal following to our unique blend of urban hip-hop bagpipe instrumental funk. We were featured on a PBS documentary and got an album out of the deal Scottish Octopus: Live in Union Square NYC. The homemade CDs would practically fly out into the hands of our patrons. Children would dance, dogs would sing with us, NYPD would never bother us, and we became, at least for those years, a staple to the weekend Union Square experience.
Washington Square park is a spooky place. It is built on an old Indian burial ground, and is right in the center of the main NYU campus in Greenwich Village. It is famous for being the place where tourists can go and buy weed from one of the many drug dealers. An eighty foot-tall replica Arch de Triumph stands on the northern entrance to the square from 5th Avenue, and in the middle of the square itself is a large circular fountain. On Friday nights, between the hours of 6 and 10 you could find me playing under the arch where the acoustics gave the music a sense of expansive space. Sometimes the air would be cool and misty, giving the park a mystical vibe. As people would saunter under the arch, they enter my little sphere of musical influence. In many cases, as I know from the feedback I received, some people would walk under the arch feeling lousy and stressed out, and by reaching the other side, as they listened for maybe just a moment, they would feel much better. They would feel lighter, a sudden smile, and maybe a question in their minds iike "what the fuck did I just hear?" might change their attitude.
For years I would run this busking circuit like clockwork. I had figured out that having a spot on a busy intersection is not as effective as find a spot that enriches the environment and situation, that is the right spot and the right time. A well executed busk can be perfection, bringing all kinds of magic and auspicious timing. A poorly executed busk will utterly deplete me, like playing my heart out for hundreds of people who are rushing by trying to make their next appointment. It will provoke tremendous doubt and cowardice, and require many hours of rest to recover from that kind of awkward mental and physical stress. Much of the energy used on a busk is merely the travel effort, and if I would go to find a spot and it was already occupied by another busker, I would probably try to find another place to play. Sometimes I would wander the city for hours trying to find one single place to busk, and plenty of times I came up empty handed. This left me in confused states of mind of doubt, desperation, and total depleted exhaustion.
So over the years, as experience matured my understanding, I learned how to busk at my favorite locations at just the right times to get the maximum benefit. Washington Square park was always a good backup for Sunday afternoons, evenings and dusk, and Central Park was always a good spot to hit up on weekdays in the early afternoon by the Columbus Statue on the south end of the Mall. Sometimes, if I was feeling saucy, I would busk in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Union Square was off limits Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, because of the farmers market. During work hours, bagpipes were not appreciated by the local businesses, limiting my busking opportunities to later hours. Unless the evening fell on Halloween, Union Square was never profitable after dark.
One time, in winter, Mike and I were busking in Union Square on a Sunday afternoon, and we noticed there were lots of young college students walking around in their underwear. I was like, in a phony British accent, “Mike, I do declare, there is quite a lot of underwear!” He was like: “Every year, at this time, is the ‘no pants subway ride.’” I had a moment of terror, realizing it was laundry day, and I was going commando, sans boxers. I was not about to flash everybody, so I left my pants on. Mike and I played for a dancing crowd of bare legs that quite literally mobbed us for about twenty minutes as we were also swarmed by a mob of Japanese tourist photographers trying to catch an image of that scene. The mob chanted, “pants off! Pants off! Pants off!” to us and I could only smile and say, “sorry!” Mike took of his pants and everybody cheered.
Mike and I played dozens of afternoon concerts on Union Square. Eventually we had people coming to Union Square specifically to hear us. We had a fan base and we were known in the neighborhood, and enjoyed the fruits of being part of the local underground community. Thousands of people from all over the world have listened to our music, danced, and threw some money in the tip jar. Usually American dollar bills, of ones, fives, twenties, even fifties. We’ve been visited by movie stars, rock stars, high fashion models, vagabonds, immigrants, homeless, rich debutants and blue collar workers. Everyone equally experienced our raw musical offering in that no-mans-land. Often times we would be hounded by drunk homeless dudes, we could smell their fowl breath from 20 feet away. We knew the local police and they knew us. As long as we played by the rules and parameters of the city, we were protected. There was even a person, living in one of the tall apartment buildings right on Union Square, was trying to issue a petition to have bagpipes banned from the square. This was his effort to keep us from playing on Sunday afternoons, which apparently drove him mental. He tried to issue his petition to the local precinct, but they tossed it out.
Sometimes movie and television crews rolled up on my spots, and they would bring out all the gear, and have famous actors. In such moments, I knew that if I was nice, I could maybe meet some Hollywood producers and extort them for money, saying simply, “this is my living, I’m afraid I need to keep playing, unless you are able to cover the expense.” I could get anywhere from $60 to $200, which as far as media expenses go, is a pittance.
In the mornings sometimes I could catch the crowds at the Summerstage in Central Park for Breakfast Television’s early morning concert series. I saw Florence and the Machine and Green Day at these concerts, and would busk some tips as concertgoers would leave the park through the mall by the bandshell or the Columbus statue.
I eventually came to understand that what I was doing, as a piper in the park square, was creating space for people to cheer up and have an unexpected moment of perception. Pipers have been doing such a thing for many thousands of years. By playing pipes, a strong instrument with an expansive drone and a penetrating melodic tone, a sphere of sound is generated around the piper. It radiates in every direction, like the sun, and instead of light waves vibrating in every direction, it is sound waves in steady and continual harmony vibrating out like a force field. By playing proficiently and consistently better than each last time I was constantly improving. I discovered new piping techniques and learned to lock into rhythm. In this way, from feedback I’ve received by innumerable people, I made their day, or allowed them to cry, or cheered them up from a bad day.
In the Buddhist tradition I follow, Shambhala, there is an emphasis on cultivating an enlightened society. That is to say, to create a society that allows everybody the opportunity to understand their own awakened nature and to awaken compassion for all life. To practice meditation and the tenets of Buddhism, that is nonviolence, patience, generosity, intellect, wisdom, and compassion, is truly enriching to one’s own quality of life. Creating society is really a lot more complicated than trying to be kind to oneself and others, but when it comes down to it, when such things are practiced in society, peace and community stability prospers and allows for a greater quality of life for everyone, no matter what their class, career, or status. As an artist and public performer, I like to think that I am simply allowing people the opportunity to reflect on their own hearts, even if for just a moment. Maybe I inspire them to play or appreciate music. Perhaps something about my music touches them in such ways. Whether I provoke a memory, inspire a dance, or entrance into hypnosis, I provide people with the kind of good, natural music medicine they need to have respite from the tormenting confusions of life.
A few times I was playing in Central Park, and right in front of me, while I was playing, a young man would drop to his knee and propose to his girlfriend. A few times too, a young man would drop to his knee and propose to his boyfriend.
A few times, other buskers and I have had aggressive shouting contests, projecting profanity on each other for disrespect. I swear that one is not a real New Yorker until they’ve barked, “fuck you!” a few times back and forth to another person.
It is understood that buskers need to look out for each other, but also need to stand up for themselves. There are certain unwritten rules of courtesy, like don’t blow up someone’s spot while they are playing. If you want a spot, you can buy it for a price, or you can ask if you can take it. You can always ask how long a busker plans on occupying a spot, and you can always wait until they are done.
Cops are usually on your side, but cops generally do what they want. Even if a busker is within their rights, police officers will effectively violate the law to shut a busker down. Everyone in New York, even the police, is breaking at least one law at a time. It is a kind of unspoken agreement, and keeps the capitalist mecca working like a constantly oiled machine. However, if confronted by a police officer, it is most skillful to speak eloquently and with great speed, outlining that “as a performer I am within my rights in the park and also are protected by the first amendment, and as I have no amplification device there is therefore no noise ordinance violation before the standard 10:30 curfew of all public noise making devices. Therefore, by the city, I am permitted to play until 10:30 pm at the latest.” That line of reasoning has worked many times (but not every time).
More times than I can count on my fingers and toes I had standoffs with aggressive drunk homeless people. People who would try and steal my money, intimidate me, or threaten me. At no time was I ever assaulted, though a few times harassed. Some drunk asshole underneath the arch at Washington Square, shouting at me while I’m playing, trying to tell me his life story, trying to tell me that he is descendent from Robert the Bruce, with breath nasty reeking like cheap vodka and Bud Light, and always looking like he’s going to sucker punch me, but I know he is too cowardly to do so in his sad drunken stooper. A few times the cops have come right onto the busking scene and arrested drunk aggro homeless dudes for drinking or smoking in the park, blowing up my vibe and ruining busking nights.
Sometimes I would be busking at the Arch and professional dancers would appear, dressed like superstars, unfathomably beautiful and super sexy, and interpretive dance to my music on the spot. Sometimes break dancers would drop right in front and spin to the pipey beat. Many times girls would bust out into highland dance, and sometimes people would start riverdancing. Sometimes children would run in circles around me when I played, little girls pirouetting and babies bobbing up and down. Sometimes, especially when Mike was playing too (but not exclusively), people would start rapping over the bagpipes, or sometimes even sing. Sometimes I would team up with busking riverdancers and we would close out the whole square, gathering huge crowds of spectators.
Some days I would make my way down to Union Square and the legendary clown Matthew Silver would be there, dressed in his speedo or leotard, doting a rubber chicken or a broken crutch, shout “LOVE IS THE ANSWER, STOP BUYING STUFF!” and making fart noises with his lips, startling everyone with pure wit. He and I would occupy the whole block, with his hilarious and inspiring antics on one side of the square with my bagpipe melodies filling the space on the other, both making plenty of tips and both with respective crowds.
I would make a point of playing in the park at least once every two days. It was impossible to practice bagpipes in my apartment, so I practiced in the park. When I really wanted to play to nature, and feel more in a natural environment with animals, I would play in the ramble in the park by the bridge. There is a stone bridge there that reminds me of an ancient castle. It is a nice place to play because most people never see you or know I am there, yet they can hear the music through the trees. And they go on a little hike to find it and then they turn to corner to see me sitting on the edge of the stone bridge playing to the birds.
Busking is a pirate’s life. It is living outside the system and for oneself. It is riding a razor’s edge, and in service to the music, in service to art. For me, busking at this point is an honor, that I may feel comfortable enough with my music that I can play it in such beautiful and inspiring places, and to be payed to do it as a professional. It is a life of enormous privilege and freedom, but I must hack my way through life and be honest and unmerciful to myself. It is playing to the space, the animals, the plants, and all the people, without discrimination or aggression. It is playing to the divine, to God, to the unseen forces that pervade the mystery of that which lies beyond what we see with our ordinary minds. It is bringing people together, creating unique memories, and sometimes spontaneously creating ceremony. It is a ritual, an offering of music to the divine. It is creating a field of awakening, where someone, in that moment, might suddenly tune into the gap of mind beyond thought.
The Dragon Pearls
On a particularly beautiful Saturday afternoon busk on the west end of the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder, Colorado, during the Halloween weekend of 2016, I was playing my bagpipes to all the happy inspired pedestrians enjoying their night out. I was in particularly good spirits. I had reached a point where I was consistently dropping into the pocket, and feeling the presence like I felt that time in San Francisco. As I was playing, I noticed a tall man walking by, dressed in well-kept pirate fashion. He turned to look at me and flashed a brilliant white smile of perfect teeth, and I thought I heard him think, “that’s what’s up!” His dark skin made his smile shine extra bright and he walked with huge steps.
When I finished, after getting some food, I went to the St. Julien Hotel where and band named Intuit was playing. My friend Scott played percussion in the band. When I arrived, it was a concert on the back patio of the hotel, in a terrific gazebo surrounded by a bush garden. They are the ultimate prototypical Boulder band, featuring the soulful singer Chloe behind a thick but organic reggae dub sound. I was standing by the dance floor and I saw the fellow who had walked past me earlier. I was quick to make introduce myself. Musa, as he introduced himself, was all smiles and certainly emanated some kind of wholesome glow. We hit it off famously, and talked about all manners of things while we listened to Intuit play a beautiful set in the Halloween spirit. I told Musa that I was headed to California in a few days. He says “Damn, man. I’ve been meaning to make my way over there.”
I replied, “well, there’s an extra seat in my car. Do you want to come?”
Musa was like “Really? Yeah man! That's what's up!” Laughing.
That weekend was Halloween, and on the Saturday night I dressed up as Captain Jack Sparrow (from the Pirates of the Carribean saga) and went down to the Pearl Street Mall to busk some bagpipes in the middle of the night. What a drunken shitshow! I swear, Boulder’s college Halloween nightlife was a disgrace to all those spotted. I did make aabout $100 for about an hour of playing, which is pretty good, but I was spent from a long day and was trying to see if there might be a sweet little honey pie around any corner. All the girls that night were alight. Alas, by the time I stopped playing, all the most eligible bachelorettes had been stolen away.
The next day was actually Halloween, and I didn’t really give a shit. Halloween is my favorite holiday, it is always a great celebration, but it is really the celebration of the day of the dead or the Celtic new year of Samhain that actually interests me. The eight Celtic holidays that correspond with the changing of the seasons are one of the most profound aspects of our ordinary culture. Before Christendom, these holidays were used to divine the yearly festivals, the planted of crops and harvest of agriculture, and to provide a community support for young lovers who get married. From the new year of Samhain, the cycle goes through the winter solstice and as the world freezes and then thaws the world is reborn for the growth of spring, the maturation of Beltane, the abundance of Midsummer’s day and then the marriage holiday of Lugh (August 1). That is the first of three harvest festivals, and they transpire until the new year starts again.
The day of the dead is revered not just in traditional Mexican culture, but in many other world traditions. In celtic tradition, November first is the day in which the veils between the spirits of the living and the dead are at their finest, and with the proper application, could be broken through.
I took the day to rest and prepare for the next great journey. I texted Musa and he said he was definitely coming but needed a little time. My old friend Jeremy Ragland, an heir to a Haliburton founder, rang me up and treated me to breakfast. He delivered some very interesting information during that breakfast. He told me that between Boulder and Los Angeles, in Utah, there is a hot spring hippie resort in the middle of the desert. Mystic Hot Springs, as he tells me, is where I have to go. Jeremy said that it was entirely necessary for me to go there, and to also tell the owner, Mystic Mike, that Jeremy had sent me.
Musa and I got a late start that day to drive across the Rockies on I-70. By the time we made it to Grand Junction, I was exhausted. I texted an old friend in Moab, a fellow I had not seen in years, to see if he was home and had some couches or guest rooms for two weary travellers. Almost instantly after I text Tom got back and said we could stay the night in Moab. What a relief! When we arrived at Tom’s little farm in Moab, he cooked us a midnight supper of Spaghetti and meatballs with tomato sauce he had made himself from tomatoes he grew himself. In fact, the whole living room was overrun with dozens of bushels of tomatoes. It was bliss in every bite.
Tom is an old Buddhist friend of mine who lives in the Moab with his wife Terry. His daughter Meera at this time is an art student living in Salt Lake City. He and I first met when we were both faculty staff at the 2007 Sutrayana Seminary, a kind of in-depth Buddhist training for committed practitioners developed in the Vajradhatu and Shambhala Buddhist communities. He now is retired and lives on farm, taking care of vegetables and animals, and writes poetry.
(Insert Poem here)
The next morning, Musa and I decide to skip Arches National Park and just head on our way to Mystic Hot Springs. Driving through Utah is one mind-expanding horizon superseded by another horizon, again and again. As the car crests the horizon it opens up into a vast space of earth and rock and cloud that seems to go on to the edge of the world. Miles away in one part of the sky I could see a storm, and on the other side of the horizon the sun shone down on the desert valley. The two were right next to each other in my vision, yet were probably about twenty miles apart, as vast as that desert is.
As we approached the geologic formations of the San Rafael Reef, a canyon formed near Uranium deposits, there is a scenic pull-off from the highway. It is one of the best stops on I-70 from coast to coast. There is a little hill that has a commanding sense of natural power to it, a real power spot. We pulled over and climbed the hill and make a little smoke offering of juniper. We were up there but a minute when suddenly this woman appeared and was shouting “This is awesome! Whooohoo!” We joined in the cheer. Brooke Smokelin, A.K.A. Vox Lumina, this smoking hot fifty-year old yoga babe, was on her own tour as a musician, healer, and yoga teacher, going to California and working her way down the coast before going back to her home state of Pennsylvania. She sang traditional kirtan (devotional singing in the Vedic tradition), EDM kirtan, was a folk-singer songwriter, and also used crystal singing bowls. We sat with her on the hill, meditating and making offerings to the dead. We exchanged music albums and persuaded her to come with us to the hot springs.
When we finally arrived at Mystic Hot Springs, it was like walking into a desert fairy tale. Here in the middle of the desert is a little oasis occupied by many varieties of fowl, especially ducks and geese. There are old run-down school buses converted into hippie buses for guests to lodge in. We walk into the main office, which is stocked with hippie fashion, art, crystals, Grateful Dead paraphernalia, and all kinds of cool stuff. The woman behind the desk, Aubrey, gave us all a very warm welcome. I She could tell right away that all three of us were musicians. Musa picked up a wand made of wood, leather, and a beautiful quartz crystal, and Aubrey gave it to him on the spot. She invited the three of us to give her and her boyfriend, Mystic Mike, a private concert in one of the buildings on the property, known as the “dragon house,” that night. We soaked in the hot pools and stayed in one of the cabins, pooling our road trip food together for a great feast of nuts, jerky, anchovies, chocolate, and crackers. Brooke noticed a very powerful energy at the spring, and it compelled her to be very observant of her mind, that we were suddenly in the presence of something very ancient and powerful. This energy is the kind of energy a person might feel as they glimpse Mount Everest after making the initial ascent. We were in the realm of ancient Earth gods. Utah itself is a realm of such powerful Earth forces. Call it pseudo-whatever, there is something spiritual about the geology of Utah.
That night we brought all the instruments to the dragon house. Brooke took out her singing bowls and poured some of the crystal water into them to activate the sound. It was the five of us, Mystic Mike, Aubrey, Musa, Brooke, and myself. Brooke treated us all to a sound bath. I had the most intense sensations in the centers of my body, where the wheels of chakras spin. After the twenty minute sound treatment, I was completely blissed out. I took my bagpipes and played over the bowls, causing them to resonate sympathetically which the tones from the pipe chanter. The whole room began to howl with sound of the singing bowls singing to the sound of the pipes, unstruck as Brooke sat behind them. When I stopped playing, she said from her throne behind the array of bowls, “that was a lot of information.”
Musa, Brooke and I continued to play music through the night. Musa played jazz flute, and Brooke and I interchanged playing percussion and guitar. At the end of the concert, Aubrey and Brooke went to bed and Mystic Mike, Musa and I stayed in the Dragon House. Mystic Mike said “Now, tonight you all decided to come on a very auspicious night, it being to day of the dead and all. There is already and intention tonight, and you two are welcome to join me if you like.” He opened his hand revealing three granola squares, packed with the best Deadhead LSD. Musa and I joined in.
The Dragon House a private place where Aubrey and Mike can conduct massage, hypnotherapy and healing. There is a private bathtub filled with spring water. The room is decked out with Balinese and Indonesian dragon carvings, Tibetan dragon rugs, and dragon symbolism everywhere. Mike tells Musa and I stories of his past, and he’s thinking about all the friends that have died over the years, starting with a particular childhood trauma that has stayed with him his whole life. He really tries to freak us out with some of the stories, but Musa and I are too cool for that, and just hold our seats and listen. Mike seemed to be impressed by this, and the conversation changes to talking about therapy, meditation, and hypnotism. At this point, we are starting to trip and visualize hallucinations. We are all experienced trippers so we just start to have fun.
“I don’t really know anything about hypnotism.” I say. “I’ve studied all kinds of different meditation techniques in many different traditions, but ‘ve never learned anything about hypnotism.”
“It’s all about the subconscious. Hypnotism is effectively separating the subconscious from the conscious mind,” Mystic says. He tries to explain the theory behind it, gesticulating to demonstrate the different levels of consciousness that one experiences, the conscious, subconscious, and unconscious. He says he never applies hypnotism to anyone who doesn’t request it. I say, in a casual manner, that I would into trying it sometime. Musa is in agreement. “I myself have never been hypnotized.” I feel like I trust Mike, even though this is the first time meeting, enough to show me something about hypnotism. I start to feel slightly sleepy, sitting in the chair. He then just starts telling me a story about something that happened to him a while ago, and as he is talking, I start to get really sleepy. I then remember him counting “8…7….6…” and then I took a little nap.
I woke up after a few minutes and Mike was still telling his story, Musa sitting down smiling, and I felt a little refreshed, but also tripping from the acid. Mike then gets up and says “come on, I’ll give you a tour.”
He proceeds to show Musa and I around the property and tells us many of the secrets of the hot spring. This oasis was known of and in use for thousands of years, but was an early pioneer settlement in the early nineteenth century. Mike had bought it in the 1990’s when he was simply driving by. It was an old resort, with a big swimming pool. Mike acquired the property and started developing it. He showed Musa and I the first thing he built, a three-tiered simple structure to support a teepee on the hill near some of the tubs. He takes us down into the gift shop and shows us his collection of Southeast Asian art, which had many stunning artifacts and carvings featuring goddesses, monkey gods, dragons, and buddhas.
He tells us about the legend of the hot spring. The local Indians believed the hot spring was the product of a dragon living underneath the mountain. The dragon’s hot breath and magma blood caused the spring to boil, the water rich with minerals. This makes sense to me, the dragon mythos is that of incomprehensible power, keeping and providing great wealth of treasured metals, gems, and crystals. Like Smaog, dragons are ancient and wise, and undisturbed they lay sleeping in great mountain caves. Yet when even provoked slightly, dragons can unleash terrible destructive power. He then says, “I’ve got this really cool cave.”
I’m like, “let’s go to the cave.”
Musa’s like, “that’s what’s up!”
As we walk out of the main building and towards the duck ponds, Mike whispers, “don’t wake up the ducks.” There are about three hundred ducks and geese living in the ponds and the old swimming pool. We tip-toe past them, slightly terrified at the thought of what might happen if they wake up. I jump at the sound of quack in the distance. Mike takes us around a path and then up to a group of trees. There are tumbleweeds all over the place. Mike starts ripping out and throwing aside all the tumbleweeds to reveal a hidden path underneath the trees. When we go through the path, we come to the entrance of the cave, with steam venting out the entrance, a gentle stream running from it. We turn on the flashlight and duck under the cave ceiling, walk up another flight of earth to enter a chamber. The air is hot and thick, and a towering crystal wall rises 14 feet. It is white and pink in color, with a gentle pulse of water coming down the rock face, making it look with pulsing, breathing flesh. I reach out to touch it, expecting it to be soft and squishy, but feeling it to be hard and scaly and hot. There are bizarre geologic formations, micro waterfalls, and stalactites coming from the ceiling and walls of the cave. Little crystal stalagmites forming like little mushrooms are clustered like a little garden in the corner, and when I look closer, I see several tiny little pools of water that are filled with tiny pebbles. I look at the pebbles and realize they are cave pearls, tiny stones formed from the minerals held in the water in a matter of weeks. I pick some up and look closely at them, and notice they radiate tremendous energy, like radiation. I feel a subtle shift in my body’s electro-magnetic alignment, and realize I’m holding something extremely rare, precious, and powerful. “Dragon pearls,” I say. Mike looks at me, smiles and nods approvingly. “Can I have some?” I ask.
I collect a small handful from some of the different pools. The pearls are all unique and different sizes, some are big like a small pebble and some are tiny, maybe 1-2 millimeters in diameter. Some are shaped like peanuts, some are crusty with crystal shale. All of them, despite difference in size, are equally powerful to the touch, and radiate energy like I have never experienced. The gentle water dripping in sheets over the crystal rock face cause this cave and it’s crystal deposits to grow at a 400X accelerated rate. Months later, when I would return to the cave, it had grown so much that the little pools of Dragon Pearls had grown over and formed new pools, and the crystal wall would change color from a pinkish hue to a deep blue.
After the cave, Mystic Mike showed us the source of the spring. He explained that the hot spring is a fissure in the fault line, and one day, when Yosemite or St. Helens explodes, it too will erupt and possibly cause the destruction of the entire western hemisphere. The crystal wall is the tip of an iceberg of a crystal, a massive mineral deposit that must span miles under the ground. Who knows what riches and natural treasures are being formed under that mountain as we speak. Perhaps that massive crystal will one day form a kind of Arkenstone, the young heart of a young mountain that one day will mature into one of the tallest mountains in the world.
He told us a story about an unfortunately mentally ill young geologist who discovered the source of the spring and the fault line on a map, drove to the location where we were standing, but a shotgun to his mouth, and pulled the trigger.
I washed the dragon pearls and put them in a small plastic bag. I kept them in my jacket breast pocket. They enveloped me in their radiance, and I could feel my body healing faster, my energy stabilized, my mind clear. It also had an effect on music. I looked up certain properties of some of the minerals I knew were in the pearls, citrine, calcite, quartz, lithium, agate, all in very raw form. According to crystal hippies, calcite boosts psychic intuition. As I evolved from that moment on, as a person, this may account for certain things that I notice have changed, particularly my sense of accurate intuition and foresight. I gave out dragon pearls to my friends over the next few years, trusting these little pebbles of immense power to my friends, to protect them, to heal them, to give them something that can bond us over the years. I now have five that I keep as my personal pearls. As time passes and our friends fade into memory, and are sometimes forgotten, it is good to leave little seeds of such memories, so that we can remember the stories and the people we love.